Note from the translator:
This essay is alarmingly disingenuous of how Lopez Obrador has acted in office, and ignores important data points that weaken the primary argument. As much as other publications that I’ve translated have some unsupportable arguments, the amount of problematic arguments in this essay stands out. It is easily debatable, and hardly defensible. It is absolutely irresponsible that Mexico’s head of state believes they have the authority to publish such an arrogantly misleading essay.
(The text was originally published by the president as an official government document bearing the seal of the Mexican Office of the President.)
EVEN THOUGH it is too early to make an analysis about the causes and effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, we can already anticipate some lessons with some foundations and palpable results.
Firstly, it is a fact that the public healthcare systems were not prioritized during the neoliberal period by most governments regardless of their political and ideological tendencies. In China, for example, despite being the country with the highest economic growth in the last decades, hospitals were built in an emergency; in Europe and the United States scenes showing very sick patients waiting for ICU beds have been disheartening; in our country not only has the shortage of beds, ventilators, personal equipment been manifested, but the most worrying part; a shortage of medical staff, specifically experts in various diseases. It’s important to remember that, during the neoliberal period, when the focus was to privatize education, past administrations left public universities with very limited funding, consequentially those institutions rejected candidates on the falsehood that they did not pass the admission exam. Because of that, in a country of poor people, many young people that couldn’t pay the tuition costs at private universities never studied.; not only did that violate the right to education but also left all of us without enough doctors and nurses to satisfy the nation’s healthcare necesities.
But, it is perhaps the greatest irresponsibility of past governments, which has been uncovered by the Coronavirus, has been the disregard, throughout the decades, for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and renal complications, emboldened by the consumption of processed “trash food” and the absence of nutrition education and encouragement of exercise and sports.
The disregard is additional proof that the neoliberal model is solely oriented towards procuring material goods, only economic growth, no matter the welfare of the public or the damage that this vision has on the environment and people’s health.
In our country, the pandemic showed that the most effected people have been those who have those aforementioned chronic diseases; in fact, this group of people is more heavily impacted than senior citizens. According to the data available right now, 55% of those who died of COVID-19 had hypertension, diabetes, or obesity.
Another failure that has been uncovered has been the limited solidarity that exists in the world today when it comes to the acquisition of medical equipment. Speculation and profiteering in this regard have reached shameful levels. A ventilator that prior to COVID-19 cost 10,000 dollars now sells for over 100,ooo dollars. Worse still, because of the shortage, governments and corporations alike have been hoarding them. Because of that, in the midst of this tragedy, I celebrate that -for reasons unknown, the pandemic is yet to hit the African continent with the same intensity as other regions.
Nonetheless, we must add to the terrible damage COVID-19 has caused to public health, including the very tragic loss of life, the global economic collapse. It’s fair to say that, according to most predictions, most countries will reduce their economic growth by around 7% and that only India and China will grow, by 1.6 and 1.2 percent respectively, which, in the case of the latter, is unheard of, after 40 consecutive years of material progress.
Logically, the Coronavirus is not the cause of this economic catastrophe. The pandemic has merely evidenced the failure of the neoliberal model in the world. Keep in mind that in these very moments the absence of agreement between OPEC+ nations to avoid market saturation caused the collapse of oil prices and worsened still the economic and financial crisis; in other words, the vulnerability of the world economy is visible and any natural phenomenon, epidemic, or conflict could be disastrous for it. Concluding, The global infection has come to show that the neoliberal model is in its dying stage.
Consequentially, it’s time to propose new forms of political, economic, and social coexistance, placing aside, definitively, the mercantilist, individualist, and seldom solidary approach that has predominated in the last four decades. Coronavirus reminded us that it is better to care for our elders in our homes rather than in asylums, no matter how comfortable those are. Nothing substitutes love. This implies that we must reconsider the parameters that have been used to measure the welfare and development of peoples and nations, and orient the global reconstruction with the premise that progress without justice is backward and that modernity needs to be forged from the ground up for everyone.
Maybe that “ground”, marginalized, and looked down upon by technocratic mentalities has somethings to teach us; maybe the community coexistence models that have only been seen as a problem by the modern, neoliberal ideology are in fact full of solutions.
I referred to Africa, but one must also look over to extensive rural regions of Asia and Latin America in which the pandemic has had a minimal impact. In theory, the propagation of the new virus inside them would’ve been catastrophic, keeping in mind the lack of sanitary infrastructure, telecommunications, and basic services.
But one must ask themselves, to what extent have those weaknesses been uncompensated, thus far in the pandemic,we must ask ourselves thanks to the persistence of community culture, bursting with solidarity, with alimentary self sufficiency, and social hierarchies that continue challenging the uniform integration of macroeconomics.
Up until now, the uncontrollable expansion of predatory neoliberalism has exploided, raided, and enviromentally devastated those communities. Pathological alimentary habits, organized crime, social and family putrefaction, and the generalized loss of values. But there’s been no interests in bringing potable water, electricity, schools, clinics, roads, or telecommunications.
We must show the enormous potential evolution that the international community could learn from those regions if they established a pact to guarantee their collective and individual rights, until now denied in practice; and in exchange, these communities will teach the foundation of a good life, and will remind the principles to live for the self, and for the whole to the rest of the world , it is the only way with which we could successfully face the uncertainty of natural phenomenons and epidemics.
Returning to the matter of states, it is urgent to discard the recurrently proposed recipes of International Financial Organizations, supposedly oriented towards reversing recurrent crises, but, in practice, causing new wealth concentration cycles, new corruption spirals, growth of inequality, and growth of social inequities between regions and the rural and urban, finally worsening the effects of inequality, social disinteration, migration, marginalization, and missery. It was shown, disgracefully, in many countries like it happened in Mexico by mass privatization of industry and the bailout of great fortunes with the Banking Savings Protection Fund (FOBAPROA) in 1998; it also occured in Argentina, when the recent attempt to reinstate neoliberalism was translated into a brutal economic crisis not to far away from bankruptcy.
Some basic lessons:
1. It is indispensable that public healthcare institutions are strengthened, and at the same time so should education and social security, health is not a material thing or a privilege, but a right for all human beings. Because of that, funds destined to those areas are not expenses, but instead investments in the most valuable resource a nation has: its population.
2. Chronic diseases must be addressed immediately, factually, the most deadly pandemics in the world; in other words, more people lose their life to heart attacks, obesity and diabetes, than those who will, unfortunately, die of Coronavirus. It is true that chronic diseases are at times hereditary, but these are exacerbated by the consumption of processed foods and bad alimentary habits. Therein lies the necesity of a global movement towards prevention and education for health, nutritional orientation, and the encouragement of exercise and sport.
3. We need a more solidary world to take advantage of uiversal fraternity, starting by avoiding hoarding of foodstuffs, medicines, and medical equipment. When it comes to anything involving health, strict regulations anti-trust and profiteering regulations must be enacted, medicine and medical equipment commercialization must be controlled. It must be guaranteed that no person is ever deprived of medicine,medical attention, and medical equipment because of insufficient economic resources or because the existing market makes those benefits unattainable.
4. The UN and the WHO must immediately convene governments and scientists across the world to create the vaccine for Coronavirus and other illnesses.
5. Discard the economic model that generates wealth without well-being and procure more state intervention to guarantee basic universal rights to health, food, education, work, housing, culture, and sports. The state is charged with reducing social inequities. It is not possible to continue the displacement of social justice in governmental agendas. Using the state to defend particular interests is not fair game and it must be vanished when it comes to benefiting majorities. Defending the state’s tools to bailout corporations and financial institutions in bankruptcy and considering it a nuisance when it comes to promoting the well-being of the most vulnerable is not legal or ethical. Enough hypocrisy already.
6. Strengthen cultural, moral, and spiritual values, and recognize family as the best social security apparatus.
7. Reshape organizations like the IMF, World Bank, InterAmerican Development Bank, the OECD (misspelled in the original text), the G20, among others, into true propoters of cooperation for development and well-being of peoples and nations.
8. Procure that the ideas and actions of governments across the wrold are guided by humanitarian principles more than personal, economic, hidden, manufactured interests, lets decry inequality, racism, dictatorships, lets rally for peace, justice, equality, liberty, democracy, and well being.
The ongoing pandemic will leave us with irreplaceable losses, and a dislocated, severely reduced economy. In many ways, we must task ourselves with rebuilding the world. I encourage that it is successful using new bases and propositions that let us take advantage of the good that the crisis has brought: the proof that, among nations and individuals, healthcare must be a solidary and collective task; if we apply “save yourself if you can”, no one is truly saved. We’re social beings by nature and all people and all communities belong to the same family: Humanity.
-Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
President of the United States of Mexico 2018-ongoing
Former Mayor of Mexico City 2000-2006
Former president and founding member of the National Regeneration Movement political party
Founding member of the Democratic Revolution Party